Kudos to John B. DeRosa, a too-long unheralded champion of North Adams, for coming up with what amounts to a master plan for the city that won’t require a convoluted, costly study and can start to be implemented almost immediately.
The five initiatives announced by the newly formed Partnership for North Adams on Monday (see story, Page A1) are bold in their vision yet logical in their approach. Enlisting the aid of the city’s two most valuable assets, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, was a master stroke.
Some may quibble with individual components of the plan announced by the partnership, but its principals were the first to say that plan will certainly evolve over time and won’t happen overnight but rather over a period of years -- perhaps many years. Let us remember that Mass MoCA underwent 12 years of planning and preparation before opening its doors. MCLA’s new $50 million Center for Science and Innovation, for which ground will be broken next spring, took six years of planning.
The crucial idea behind these new initiatives is that North Adams cannot continue to survive simply by relying on public money to bail it out or keep it afloat: Private investment is essential for its growth, and indeed, its mere survival. The initiatives outlined by the partnership -- market-rate housing development, filling vacant historical buildings through educational programing and new partners, building a world-class downtown convention center, creating a small wind farm and enhancing the corridor along the south branch of the Hoosic River -- offer viable opportunities. If money can be made, private investment is certain.
Mass MoCA has exceeded all expectations and has served as a catalyst for some business development in the city, most notably small restaurants, the Porches Inn and Eric Rudd’s artists lofts in the Eclipse Mill. Yet, many businesses struggle to survive or quietly go belly-up. Our downtown, despite some bright spots, remains stagnant and filled with vacant storefronts. Our hospital clings to life and faces a merger and a revamped mission. All the super Walmarts, CVS pharmacies and dollar stores in the world will not save the day.
Vision is needed, and it should come as no surprise that Mr. DeRosa, and through him the new partnership, has provided that vision. Many consider him the chief architect behind Mass MoCA and the glue that held it together in the early years. More are aware of his efforts to bring professional baseball to North Adams -- and keep it here.
This new vision will undoubtedly need to be further explored, tweaked and discussed, but it offers far more than rhetoric and vague promises. It offers specific pathways forward to a bright future, full of opportunity, and strong partners who can help lead us there.